How Arab Americans Manage Mental Health and Stress during COVID-19
By: Joyce Behrens/Arab America Contributing Writer
During the Coronavirus pandemic, not only a person’s physical health may be affected but also mental health too. Coronavirus has forced civilians to social distance, enforce temporary restrictions/closures on everyday places, and obliged to stay at home orders. A procedure to slow down the spread of the virus. However, these factors will increase mental health issues. When we look at this issue from the perspective of Arab Americans, there is a growing number of concerns. Some mental health issues include anxiety, stress, and may result in toxic home environments.
Three Arab American psychologists: Dr. Nuha Adudabbeh, Dr. Shatha Atiya, and Dr. Hoda Amine, explore this issue a little closer; they analyze some conflicts in the Arab American home that arise from stress and mental health.
Source: Fairfax County Times–Dr. Nuha Adudabbeh is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Professional Psychology Program at George Washington University in Washington D.C.
To make the best out of the situation
The best solution from these psychologists is to stop the pandemic from bringing you down. In other words, use this time to do activities that you didn’t have the time beforehand. According to Dr. Adudabbeh, allow yourself to explore new activities and hobbies. A way to distract yourself from what’s going on, but also to balance your spirituality. Some examples, from Dr. Atiya, include gardening, practicing yoga, or even reading a novel. According to Dr. Amine, creating a routine, during this pandemic, will reduce stress by 50 percent. You can reduce anxiety by being comfortable and at the same time, stay active at home. Everyone needs to think positively, and know that this pandemic is not the end of the world.
Another piece of advice, that is strongly recommended, is to limit the amount of news media on the pandemic. Now, you need to watch the news in order to be informed of updates. However, the number of cases/deaths, as well as hospital footage, will create stress onto you. This applies to social media too. When you become too attached to your phone and other technological devices, it won’t help manage your mental state. It will only waste valuable time of the day as well as create more stress. It is best to reduce technological engagement and try to find new hobbies to substitute it.
Arab Americans are resilient. They have been through adversity; their lives were at stake. There were situations in the Arab world that produced similar fears and anxieties. A few examples include the Lebanese Civil War and the land displacement occurring in Palestine. The older generation knows the feeling of having to stay home, forced restrictions, limited access to essential resources, and not knowing what the future will look like. A different situation taking place in today’s society, but the feelings of loneliness and anxiety remain the same. While the older generation has been through a similar scenario, this is a scary feeling the current generation.
Kids living under this Pandemic
The younger generation of Arab Americans did not experience firsthand the conflicts of the Arab world. Regardless if they are kids, teenagers, or college students, they are most likely accustomed to the American lifestyle. In other words, they attend school without any unexpected closings, spend more time with their friends than being at home, or go comfortably to the grocery stores without being urged to stock up on essential items. Dr. Adudabbeh views this as a cultural shift. The young generation of Arab Americans growing used to the American lifestyle versus Arab Americans may have experienced situations in the Arab world during their childhood.
The Pandemic Challenge and its Solution
For the younger generation of Arab Americans, this is a new experience for them. This could also be a challenge, such as being forced to stay home, public amenities closed and stuck with their family all day long. These factors can increase the dilemmas of mental health for some individuals. Now, for a teenager or college student, they may have trouble accepting these temporary restrictions. According to Dr. Atiya, when it comes to Arab American families, “the parents take care of their kids like they do in the Middle East. When they go off to college, they are free.”
Dr. Adudabbeh explains that this is not the time to be selfish. We all have to think of one another during this pandemic. When we explain this to a child, the parents have to approach it carefully and tactfully.
The solution to the challenge is communication. It’s a key aspect in this situation, especially when under the same roof with others. How a parent explains to a child’s frustrations, regardless of how old he/she is, is important. There are always going to be frustrations. When it comes to comforting your kids, Dr. Atiya has some tips. First, calm your children down before you talk to them. Give them some space because patience here is necessary. Then, as a parent, listen and understand their frustrations during this pandemic. Being a good listener to your children is just as important as talking to them.
Recent studies have shown that since the pandemic, domestic violence has increased. When it comes to more than one person living under the same roof, it may lead to some heated arguments and physical confrontations. Factors of a lost job or the recent death of a loved one accompany the feeling of frustration.
When tension escalates, Dr. Adudabbeh recommends taking a moment to distance yourself from people in the house. Once you calm down, then it’s okay to have a respectful conversation. Dr. Atiya is on the same page with that statement. She also recommends, if the situation is getting worse, seeking a mental health professional from your home (telehealth) is an available resource. A call to law enforcement should be a last resort.
When children are involved, particularly young children, it is not a good thing for them to witness a dispute. An event involving domestic violence can affect a child emotionally. If a situation is not handled responsibly and respectful, Dr. Amine believes it can develop a bad influence and behavior for the children as they grow older. In other words, children can develop depression by seeing parents violently argue constantly. Also, learned behavior from parents can be passed down to children. When children become adults, they might act in the same frustrated, angry manner as their parents. Another outcome is going down the wrong paths in life. For example, substance abuse from drugs or alcohol may be used for children to cope.
When the Coronavirus pandemic ends, the issue of mental health will not subside. According to Drs. Amine and Dr. Adudabbeh, life will not go back to normal. Adjustments and outcomes from this pandemic will leave permanent scars. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, financial burdens, or the thought of handshaking someone’s hand. Situational depression from a current event is likely to happen. Adjustments to daily life that are said to be temporary, are now permanent in a person’s mind. With that said, Dr. Amine suggests support groups are always available. Whether they are online, over the phone, or in person. The mental health dynamic from the pandemic will increase, but resources will be there for someone who needs help.
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